I'm going to commit what to many will seem like film geek treason, I will now connect Michael Bay and Terrence Malick into one theory of filmmaking.
Yep, deal with it.
Malick and Bay share one important thing and that is a completely unabashed tunnelvision for the type of film they want, damn the naysayers, critics and crowds. They both make movies mainly for themselves and in truth, there is nothing wrong with that. As an audience member you need to know going in exactly what you are going to get. It is the only way to really enjoy anything that falls from the cameras of these two (and some other notables). With that said, let's dive headlong into the metallic masterpiece of summertime popcorn, Transformers!
Transformers: Dark of the Moon continues the story of Sam Witwicky and his Autobot friends. While Sam struggles to gain a purpose in life outside of Decepticon attacks, the Autobots are off helping the government on secret missions. Then everything is torn apart by the discovery of the original Autobot escape ship, known as The Ark, and the captain of that ship, Sentinel Prime. He alone holds the key to technology that could either help reshape the Transformers home world or completely destroy ours. The Decepticons, completely aware of this discovery, make an immediate power play and the war is back, bigger than ever.
Kids buying the Transformer toys today only want one thing, huge robots in spectacular 3D slow motion destroying each other and every building in sight. From this narrow viewpoint, Bay delivers in bulk. The highway fight sequence brought back memories of other high-speed terror scenes like in Matrix Reloaded and The Island (maybe a little too reminiscent of that last one according to some eagle eyed movie nerds). Since Bay actually filmed these scenes in the latest and greatest 3D technology, it was admittedly pretty amazing to watch. In other scenes, some of the CGI was so intensely crisp that it actually started popping too far from the live footage, making it stand out, which ruins a little of the illusion.
So the special effects is where it was at. Big robots, big explosions, big buildings falling down. Those were the high points.
The low points were pretty much everything else.
Standing in the center of all the toys-on-roids insanity is Shia LaBeouf, who in my opinion is a really good actor banking inside really bad movies. I can't fault him for taking parts in some of the biggest franchises in movie history (Transformers and Indiana Jones) because the exposure and paycheck are nearly impossible to pass up, but in terms of showing his skills as an actor, those hefty titles have done him nothing but a painful disservice. He made his big splash on the scene in the Disney TV show Even Stevens and then on the big screen in the Rear Window update, Disturbia. Many people also don't remember one of my personal favorite performances in the Project Greenlight-sponsored film, The Battle of Shaker Heights. Shia has the chops, but gets surrounded by weak emotional performances, both from CGI and real people. In this outing, Megan Fox's eye candy character was replaced by Victoria Secret's model (and current Jason Statham girlfriend), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Whiteley was an improvement in sense of acting ability, but the part was written levels below what Fox was given. The original love interest had layers, depth and some edge, while Whiteley was given virtually no background, no emotional outlet and nothing to do but stand there and be hot. Sure, the 12-year old in the audience doesn't want or need more, but to them I say, "Go grab a Victoria Secret's catalog from your parent's bathroom and stay out of my movie."
Beyond the magical pair of leads, Bay brings back the regular tough guys, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, to keep on keeping on. They both do fine jobs and don't try to make this more than it is. Coming in for the first time in the franchise is Frances McDormand, an Academy Award winner to class up the joint. While she was amusing and brought a little more skill to the screen, her part was borderline over-the-top, even in a movie with three story tall robots, because she had to balance out John Tuturro who drifts somewhere off to Hunter S. Thompson land. As if they weren't enough, Bay decides to bring in an unusual amount of big name cameos, including John Malkovich (who does a decent job in his few scenes) and Ken Jeong (who seems to be acting in a completely different movie, possibly thinks he's filming Hangover 3). I saved the best for last though, my personal favorite and the only person I was actually thrilled to see appear on screen, Alan Tudyk (who plays Tuturo's assistant/bodyguard). Tudyk is a cult TV and film legend to his legions of fans spanning from the days of Firefly, Dollhouse and other projects not created by Joss Wheedon. Tudyk was the one person I actually cheered form when he magically appeared on screen.
I could go into a section now where I talk about the story, the plot lines, the connective tissue of the writing, but in reality, Bay didn't really care and neither do the younger members of the crowd, so let's just skip it.
The End of the Page recommendation: Transformers: Dark of the Moon starts slow, goes out with a bang and delivers surface entertainment for the middle school crowd.